Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK47 assault rifle, the world’s most popular weapon, has died aged 94.
The gun – whose name stands for Avtomat Kalashnikov and the year it went into production – is favoured by guerrillas, terrorists and the soldiers of many armies. An estimated 100 million are spread worldwide.
Kalashnikov yesterday in a hospital in Izhevsk, the capital of the Udmurtia republic where he lived.
He once aspired to design farm equipment. But even though his most famous invention sowed death instead of crops, he often said he felt personally untroubled by his contribution to bloodshed.
“I sleep well. It’s the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence,” he said.
Alhough the AK47 is not especially accurate, its ruggedness and simplicity are exemplary: it performs in sandy or wet conditions that jam more sophisticated weapons such as the US M-16.
“During the Vietnam war, American soldiers would throw away their M-16s to grab AK-47s and bullets for it from dead Vietnamese soldiers,” Kalashnikov said in July 2007 at a ceremony marking the rifle’s 60th anniversary.
The weapon’s suitability for jungle and desert fighting made it nearly ideal for the Third World insurgents backed by the Soviet Union, and Moscow not only distributed the AK-47 widely but also licensed its production in 30 other countries.
The gun’s status among revolutionaries and national-liberation struggles is enshrined on the flag of Mozambique.
Kalashnikov, born into a peasant family in Siberia, began his working life as a railway clerk. After he joined the Red Army in 1938, he began to show mechanical flair by inventing several modifications for Soviet tanks.
The moment that firmly set his course was in the 1941 battle of Bryansk against Nazi forces, when a shell hit his tank. Recovering from wounds in the hospital, Kalashnikov brooded about the Nazi’s superior automatic rifles; his rough ideas and revisions bore fruit five years later.
“Blame the Nazi Germans for making me become a gun designer,” said Kalashnikov. “I always wanted to construct agricultural machinery.”
In 2007, president Vladimir Putin praised him, saying “The Kalashnikov rifle is a symbol of the creative genius of our people.”
He was decorated with numerous honors, including the Hero of Socialist Labour and Order of Lenin and Stalin Prize. But because his invention was never patented, he did not get rich off royalties.
“At that time patenting inventions wasn’t an issue. We worked for socialist society, for the good of the people,” he said. Kalashnikov worked into his late 80s